Thursday, September 19, 2019

Chapter 13, The Amazing Adventures of Ralph Kroder

A matter of numbers


       Specialist Carlton Wong one day said, “I’ve been thinking, Sarge.”
       Wong made his announcement while sitting in the driver’s seat of Platoon Sergeant Ralph Kroder’s Stalker armored personnel carrier and wiping down the vehicle instrument panel. Ralph sat on a bench seat in the cargo compartment, filling out daily after-action forms, noting ammunition expended, fuel used, mileage readings for each of the platoon’s six vehicles, MREs consumed, friendly WIA, friendly KIA and noting “None” in the block “Recommendations for future operations.”
       “How’s your hand?” Ralph asked as he printed Wong’s name, rank and duty position in the WIA section of the form.
       Wong studied the back of his left hand. He flexed his fingers. “It’s okay.”
       “You got full use of it?”
       Wong laughed and then said, “I drove back here to the FOB, didn’t I?”
       “You did,” Ralph said. “And I appreciate that.” Wong had raised the driver’s seat and had the upper third of his body outside the protective armor in order to watch highway traffic when the Somali sniper fired at the vehicle. Ralph and everybody else in the platoon knew the sniper had fired from a mosque tower several blocks from the highway. None of the platoon’s soldiers returned fire, although every gun had aimed at the tower. No one saw an actual person in any of the tower’s six windows. Rules of engagement prohibited return fire unless a specific shooter in a specific location could be identified. Staff Sergeant Ben Golden, squad leader of First Squad, had asked over the radio, “Why don’t we just shoot up the whole goddam town and be done with it?” That radio transmission led to a short counseling session of Golden by the LT. Golden defended his transmitted question by saying, “The fucking ragheads shot one of us, Sir!” The LT reminded Golden that Wong was his soldier, as was every soldier in the platoon. Ralph had been present at the counseling, but did not interfere with the LT’s remarks nor with Golden’s reply. The LT reiterated the rules of engagement and then reminded Golden of proper radio procedures. Golden admitted he had violated those procedures. He vowed he would not do so again. After counseling and then dismissing Golden to return to his duties, the LT asked Ralph, “What do you think, Sergeant Kroder?” Ralph replied, “You were professional and to the point, Sir. You identified the mistake, told Staff Sergeant Golden why he was wrong, and you told him how to fix the problem so it doesn’t occur again.” Ralph smiled then and said, “In other words, you done good, Sir.”

       Wong’s wound had not been serious, in the sense that some bullet wounds do not incapacitate a soldier. Ralph figured Wong had temporary limited use of the hand, but he would not replace Wong in the driver’s compartment unless Wong’s driving abilities posed a danger to the vehicle. The sniper bullet had scoured across the back of Wong’s hand. The wound was painful, but doctors said he would fully recover after a week or so of stiffness. Wong had protested when Ralph said he would receive a Purple Heart Medal. After listening to Wong for a time, Ralph said, “I don’t care whether you want a Purple Heart or not. You’re going to get one because the whole platoon knows you earned it. End of discussion.” From a personal and Army standpoint, Ralph did not want anyone anywhere, at any time claim Wong had not been awarded an earned medal, especially a Purple Heart.
       Now, Wong cleaned the instrument panel, using his unwounded right hand, and he said, “You know, Sarge, the Army ought to put a head count on a soldier’s tour.”
       Ralph folded the completed forms and slid the forms into a cargo pocket. “What kind of head count?”
       “Well, you know. You kill so many ragheads, you get to go home.”
       “Huh,” Ralph said. “How many ragheads?”
       “I don’t know,” Wong said. “Maybe twenty, twenty-five.”
       “That’s a lot of killing.”
       Wong considered Ralph’s statement. “Yeah, I guess it is.”
       Ralph said, “I doubt the whole platoon has killed twenty-five since we got here four months ago.”
       “Okay,” Wong said. “How about ten or fifteen?”
       “You think that’s enough?”

       “It should be enough,” Wong said. “If forty of us haven’t killed twenty-five in four months, well, that’s a percentage to work from.”
       “Okay,” Ralph said. “Let’s work from that, say twenty dead ragheads in four months and forty of us. The platoon doesn’t have forty anymore, but we’ll go with forty, for mathematical calculation purposes. Okay?”
       “Sure,” Wong said. He finished cleaning the gauges and turned in his seat, facing Ralph.
       “Okay,” Ralph said. “Twenty dead ragheads in four months means five a month, right?”
       Wong considered the numbers. He grinned. “I see where you’re going, Sarge. It would take a long time for a soldier to get ten dead ragheads.”
       “It would,” Ralph said. “Plus, we’d have to have an umpire, somebody to assign kills. You get five guys shooting at the same raghead, does the umpire give the credit to the closest shooter? Or maybe to the known best marksman. You fired expert with your rifle before we deployed. How many ragheads have you fired at since we got here?”
       “Uh, maybe five,” Wong said.
        "How many did you hit?"
        "Honestly, Sarge, I don't know."
       “You’ve been busy driving, which is your primary job, right?”
       “Right,” Wong said.
       “And then there are artillery soldiers. They can kill a bunch of ragheads in a single fire mission. You want to send home a whole gun crew?”
       “Probably not.”
       “Or an A-10 pilot?”
       “I see your point.”
       Ralph stood. He picked up his rifle and walked bent over to the rear of the Stalker. He looked back at Wong. “I’m glad you are giving thought to things. A soldier who doesn’t think – Well, I’d rather not have him around.” He patted his left leg. “Now I’ve got to turn in paperwork to the first sergeant so we can get everything we need to keep the platoon going.”
       “All right, Sergeant Kroder,” Wong said. “Thanks for listening.”
       “Anytime,” Ralph said. "That's what platoon sergeants are for."

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